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    Recreational drugs

    On this page
    1. What are recreational drugs?
    2. Why do people take recreational drugs?
    3. How do I know if I am addicted to recreational drugs?
    4. Effects of taking recreational drugs
    5. Chemsex 
    6. Buying drugs online
    7. Where can I get help with recreational drugs?

    The term recreational drugs is a large umbrella that incorporates both illegal, legal and controlled substances. Taking recreational drugs can be harmful to your health, and can in some cases, lead to addiction and the associated health and social consequences of addiction. 

    What are recreational drugs?

    Recreational drugs are substances which are taken for pleasure. As mentioned above these substances could be legal (such as alcohol or nicotine) or illegal (such as cocaine or cannabis). Drugs that are used in medicine are also sometimes taken as recreational drugs, e.g. benzodiazepines. These are controlled drugs, but are illegal.

    Why do people take recreational drugs?

    There are a variety of reasons why people may take recreational drugs, including:

    • peer pressure (either peers making them take them or peers taking drugs and not wanting to feel left out)
    • an interest in experimenting with the effects
    • wanting to try something new
    • wanting to relax
    • wanting to forget worries
    • trying to feel happier
    • rebelling 

    Some people may just take drugs when they are going out to a club or socialising. However, for some people drug consumption can spiral out of their control and this is when it is classed as addiction. 

    How do I know if I am addicted to recreational drugs?

    If you are finding it hard to control your use of a recreational drug and feel an overwhelming urge to use it, you may be experiencing an addiction. Once you’re addicted to a drug, you might find yourself continuing to use it, despite the harm it causes you. 

    Symptoms of drug addiction include:

    • Regular urge to use the drug
    • Thoughts of the drug eclipsing other thoughts
    • Securing yourself a steady supply of the drug
    • Spending money on the drug, even when you don’t have the resources
    • Missing work/social commitments
    • Doing things you wouldn’t usually do when not using the drug
    • Putting yourself and others at risk, e.g. driving under the influence of the drug

    As time goes on, you may find that you need larger doses of the drug to get the ‘hit’ or sensation you felt in your early days of using it. If you don’t use the drug, you may find you feel unwell as a result of withdrawal symptoms. For more information on certain drugs and their withdrawal symptoms, visit the Mind website

    Effects of taking recreational drugs

    Taking recreational drugs can have wide-ranging impacts on your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships, work life and finances. These include:

    • long-term mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or schizophrenia
    • blood borne viruses including HIV and hepatitis can be passed on through sharing needles 
    • unprotected sex under the influence of drugs could lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies
    • accidents that occur under the influence of drugs could need treatment
    • overdose - this can make you extremely ill and in some cases can kill
    • putting your finances at risk
    • relationship breakdown 
    • missing work commitments, in extreme cases losing your job

    For a more detailed guide on the health impacts of certain drugs, click here


    Chemsex means using drugs as part of your sex life. Methamphetamine, mephedrone and GHB/GBL are the three main drugs people take as part of chemsex. People say these drugs increase pleasure and make them feel less inhibited.

    There are risks involved. It can lead to unsafe sex, putting you at higher risk of HIV and other STIs.  Injecting drugs causes an increased risk of blood-borne viruses including hepatitis C. Chemsex can also have a negative impact on your work, social life, mental health and general wellbeing. 

    There are ways to help keep yourself safe. The LGBT Foundation have put together some useful tips and advice for how to engage in chemsex as safely as possible.  

    Buying drugs online

    For some people, buying drugs online may seem like a simple solution to trying to source the recreational drugs they want. However, it is important to remember that buying online is no different from buying in person, when it comes to the legalities. Receiving an order from a website that is based overseas, would be treated in the same way as importing drugs, which could carry a long prison sentence.

    Ordering any sort of drug online gives your personal and financial information to criminals, which could leave your information compromised. 

    Buying prescription medication online, unless it is bought from an online doctor/pharmacy for the correct reasons, is also illegal and risky. A registered online doctor will be registered with the CQC or can be checked through the government here. Medicines bought from other websites may be bogus and/or contain different active ingredients, so there is no way of knowing what they contain. 

    Where can I get help with recreational drugs?

    Your GP is always a good place to start if you would like some help and guidance on addiction, as they will know what services are available locally. 

    Talk to Frank, is a great resource for anyone struggling with drug addiction and in need of advice. You can ring their drug helpline on 03001236600, or you can visit the Talk to Frank website to find out about drug counselling and treatment services near you. 

    There are a variety of other charities, such as Mind, Action on Addiction and Narcotics Anonymous, that can help you with drug addiction and offer support. 

    Authors and editors

    • Reviewed and updated by

      Dr Sameer Sanghvi
      GMC number: 7085078
      Date reviewed: 4th May 2021

    • Reviewed and updated by

      Dr Bhavini Shah
      GMC number: 7090158
      Date reviewed: 16th January 2024

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